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Les Miserables
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I was fortunate enough to go see the traveling production of Les Miserables, the popular musical which is currently touring the States, in Chicago on Saturday. It was, I believe, my 6th time seeing it, and there were some differences between this production and the other five I saw. That's not to say that this was a less powerful telling, but it took some getting used to for me.

Every other time I saw Les Miz, they had a turntable stage, which rotated scenery and to which the actors' movements had to be carefully choreographed. Not so in this production: There was more standing around and singing to reveal the story in this version than in the last, from what I remember. This is not always a bad thing; it allows one to focus on the powerful lyrics a bit more, perhaps. But I really liked some of the new sets, and I liked the projection effects, especially the scenes in the sewers under Paris. Those effects were much superior to the effects in the original production.

One scene in the original, at the fall of the barricades after all of the students are killed, the stage rotates to show us the opposite side of the barricade, and there is Enjolras, the student leader, hanging from the front of the set as the music crescendos and the brilliant white light bathes his body. To me this was one of the most powerful moments in the show, and I missed it in this production. Also, the street urchin Gavroche's death at the barricades happens out of sight, making for a less powerful moment, this one just before the barricades fall.

But the background images, which used Victor Hugo's artwork, were pretty well done, and I really enjoyed some of the set pieces. I actually thought that the barricade set looked pretty good, if it lacked the dramatic impact of the two halves slowly moving together from the sides of the stage to form the barrier.

Performances were generally good. I thought the men were uniformly better than the women, but the women were for the most part okay. The performers who played Fantine and Cosette were not the strongest I've heard, but did an adequate job. By contrast, the young man who played Enjolras was excellent, and so were the actors who played Valjean, Javert, and Marius.

The only performance that really left something to be desired by me was the actress who played Eponine. Her vocal style seemed to be more suited to singing pop music than to the intracacies of Eponine's songs. She also exhibited none of the vulnerability I associate with the character. In the other productions I've seen (and in the 10th anniversary concert DVD), Eponine tries to be tough but really isn't. This Eponine DOES appear tough.

The music is still as powerful, and the stripped down instrumentation delivered it just as powerfully as the full orchestras did. One article in the Tribune suggested that Les Miz was a behemoth when traveling, due to the sets and the size of the production. Even the turntable stage had to be moved around, and this made it hard to do it cost effectively, not to mention requiring very large venues. The Cadillac Palace is not a small venue in any way shape or form, but it is not as big as the Auditorium Theater in Chicago, which is where I saw it the other five times.

The final words of the narrative, sung by ghosts Valjean, Fantine and Eponine, suggests that "to love another person is to see the face of God," and I find this to be a perfect and emotional ending to the story just witnessed. I love any production of Les Miserables, and this one, for all its differences, was a very satisfying experience.


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